What is fiber and why do you need it?

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, August 21, 2014

As a nutritionist, it’s not only my job to be sure my clients make progress, but to educate them on how to get the most from their health and wellness program. One element of a healthy diet I teach them about is dietary “fiber”.
Just what is fiber, and why do we need it? Dietary fiber is also known as “roughage”. It includes all parts of plant stuffs that our bodies can’t digest. Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are all broken down and absorbed by our bodies. Fiber remains in tact as it passes from the stomach, through the small, and large intestines.
Fiber is usually put into one of two categories. “Soluble” fiber: fiber that dissolves in water. “Insoluble” fiber: fiber that doesn’t dissolve in water. Soluble fiber becomes gel-like once it absorbs water. This type of fiber is found in apples, barley, peas, carrots, citrus fruits, oats, pears, plums, black beans, navy beans, northern, and pinto beans, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Soluble fiber also helps lower blood glucose, and cholesterol levels. Lowered blood glucose levels help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Lowered cholesterol levels help reduce the risk for stroke and heart disease. Insoluble fiber creates “bulk”, and helps movement of materials through the digestive system. It’s beneficial to those who battle with constipation. This type of fiber is found in nuts, wheat bran, whole-wheat flour, corn bran, green beans, potatoes with the skins, legumes, and cauliflower.
As a rule, vegetables have more insoluble fiber, and fruits have more soluble fiber. Did you know high fiber foods can aid in weight loss too. That’s right. Fiber helps you feel fuller longer, so you don’t feel the need to eat so much. Also, high fiber foods are less energy-dense, which means you’ll consume fewer calories. On a nutritional profile label there are usually three types of carbohydrates listed. These are “sugars”, “other sugars”; complex sugars, and “fiber”. Even though fiber is technically listed on nutritional profile labels as a carbohydrate, it doesn’t behave like one, because it never leaves the GI (gastrointestinal tract), and is therefore not absorbed by the body. For this reason, you should subtract the number of fiber grams from your total carbohydrate intake, if you are counting calories.
So, just how much fiber do we need? I recommend folks get between 25-40 grams of fiber each day. Be careful though. Increase your fiber intake slowly, because too much fiber taken too soon can cause digestive distress. Increasing dietary fiber intake gradually will help prevent bloating and cramping. Also, make sure your water intake increases, as you in creases your fiber. Increasing your daily fiber intake will make you look and feel better. Fitness or nutrition question? Email me at dwcrocker77@gmail.com or visit fitness4yourlife.org. David Crocker of Landrum has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 28 years. He served as strength director of the Spartanburg Y.M.C.A., head strength coach for the USC-Spartanburg baseball team, the S.C. state champion girl’s gymnastic team, and the Converse college equestrian team. He served as a water safety consultant to the United States Marine Corps., lead trainer to L.H. Fields modeling agency, and taught four semesters at USC-Union. David was also a regular guest of the Pam Stone radio show.
-David Crocker

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